From the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Nexus.

David Asper '07 speaks at the launch of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights
David Asper '07 speaks at the launch of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights

David Asper '07, a recent alumnus with a lifelong commitment to the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in Canada's Constitution, has made a groundbreaking gift to the Faculty of Law. He recently donated $7.5 million - the largest gift to a law school in Canadian history - to establish the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights.

A leading Canadian businessman, philanthropist, lawyer and Executive Vice-President of CanWest Global Communications Corp., Mr. Asper has expressed his delight at playing a significant role in the faculty's recently announced building renewal and expansion plans. "I am very pleased to do my part in helping make the Centre, and the redevelopment of the law school become a reality," said Asper.

Dean Mayo Moran says that Asper's gift will have a transformative effect on constitutional rights both at home and abroad. "Canada is a world leader on issues of fundamental human rights but until now these efforts have been diffuse. David's gift will enable us to play a vital role in articulating Canada's constitutional vision to the broader world," said Dean Moran.

The faculty, she adds, has been at the forefront of scholarship, teaching and test case litigation on the country's most important constitutional issues. "The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights will take that outstanding tradition to an entirely new level. It is a gift that will enhance access to justice, foster sophisticated debate, and immeasurably enrich the education and opportunities for students to participate in that debate," she said.

For his part, David Asper sees the gift as an extension of his long held interests in issues of social justice.

"Rights, freedoms and the rule of law are everything if we are to achieve enduring success as a civilization. This goal does not happen with the flick of a switch. It takes deep commitment to test, study and evaluate our state of freedom on an ongoing basis. The establishment of the Centre is a start," said Asper.

Former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, who is at Torys LLP leading the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin, called the development "wonderful news." Canada, he notes, has been cited by countries around the world on the structure of the Charter and the interpretation of fundamental rights.

"It will add to the continuing study and the understanding of the tension between collective interests and societal interests, and individual rights. It will also concentrate on access to justice for constitutional adjudication, which is extremely important and deserves support," said the Hon. Iacobucci.

The Asper gift also represents the first major contribution to the law school's building project.

David Asper, a lawyer by profession, completed a Masters in Law at the Uof T Faculty of Law in 2007. In the mid-1980s, he acted as co-counsel for wrongfully accused David Milgaard in his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Today, in his capacity with CanWest Global he has demonstrated consistent leadership defending the rights and freedoms of the press. He was instrumental in promoting CanWest's successful fight to quash a warrant and application for a writ of assistance for documents given to a National Post reporter working on stories about what has come to be known as Shawinigate. CanWest also teamed up with the Ottawa Citizen in a second case involving reporter Juliette O'Neil. In that case a judge threw out search warrants used by the RCMP to search her home and office for information about a confidential source in the Mahar Arar case.

Professor Kent Roach, who supervised Asper's masters thesis, said that David Asper has always demonstrated a deep commitment to combating injustice, and a willingness to take innovative measures to better protect the rights of all people.

"In addition, he was also a wonderful student who drew on his experience having been David Milgaard's lawyer, and his lifelong passion for discovering and preventing miscarriages of justice," added Professor Roach.

Asper has been a Director of CanWest since 1997 and CanWest MediaWorks Inc. (and its predecessor companies) since 2000. He joined the CanWest group of companies in 1992 and is currently an Executive Vice-President of CanWest and CanWest MediaWorks Inc. and Chair of The National Post Company. He teaches law school courses on wrongful convictions, and is a member of the UBC Innocence Project Advisory Board. Recently, he was also appointed to the Chief Justice of Canada's Judicial Council of Canada Advisory Group.

The new David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights will expand the Faculty's intellectual development, philosophical breadth and reach in an unprecedented manner. The Faculty of Law gratefully acknowledges David Asper's landmark gift, his vision and his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of justice.